Rome did not disappoint! After doing my laundry in the sink and hanging it up on the clothesline I rigged, which extended from a coat hanger to the hanging shower basket, I headed off to the Colosseum.
Feeling a little defeated from the day before, I wasn’t in any hurry to tackle the masses. After blogging and doing my “chores”, I finally left my Airbnb around 12:30pm. Despite my mishap, I have been otherwise prepared, and made sure I booked my accommodation very close to the Colosseum – just a 5 minute walk to the ancient site and metro station.
The mid day sun was beating down and the back of my shirt was wet before my 5 minute walk to the ancient ruins was complete. As I walked across the open area with men selling umbrellas, water, selfie sticks, and any other piece of junk they could convince you to buy, I held on very tightly to my bag! My money was tucked away in my money belt, and my passport hidden carefully at my studio apartment. I debated heavily whether or not to keep it in my possession. My eventual rationale: I could bring it with me and invite the possibility of an unknown number of potential thieves to take it, or I could leave it at the Airbnb where only the owner, with excellent reviews, had access to the room. I decided my chances were better there and tucked it away behind a piece of furniture, just for safe measure. (I then put a note in my phone of it’s whereabouts, as I have a habit of putting things in “safe places” and then forgetting where they are)!
I there presented the voucher for my previously purchased audio tour. History never interested me in school, and I knew I would appreciate a tour to help me understand everything. With my funds in jeopardy, I was lucky to be attending the sites on the first Sunday of the month, which is FREE! The lady took my voucher and handed me my ticket, but no audio tour. I told her I’d purchased it and she informed me I had to download it beforehand. Well, that would’ve been nice to know since my internet access has been minimal and my pocket wifi has only been working about 20% of the time. I decided I was going to have to depend on the signs. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I really know much more than I did before I arrived. The signs are frequently posted and quite descriptive, but they discussed many people of whom I’d never heard. I apparently need to brush up on my Roman Empire history. Sorry, Mr. Maruszak.
Regardless of my lack of understanding, the ancient ruins are absolutely fascinating. It’s truly hard to imagine just how old those pieces of marble are, or to fathom how men could lift gigantic marble and granite columns weighing tons up to a standing position. We don’t know hard work. How long would it take to build some of those structures, and to carve such elaborate designs? How long did it take to make each brick, and then to lay each of them? Simply unbelievable. Even more impressive is how advanced they were for their time. It has definitely promoted an interest to learn a little more about it.
As I stood there amongst old buildings and roads, game fields, homes, and tombs, I felt nervous just to reach out and touch them. Most everything was roped off, but on occasion there was an opportunity to reach out and run my fingers along something centuries old. It felt so surreal to think that some of those structures have been there since before Christ.
I walked every inch of the Forum and then went up to what I thought was Palatine Hill, according to the sign with the arrow. I saw one large structure under restoration and figured that was it. Ha! Shows what little I know about the Roman Empire. I know I’m not alone, but it’s slightly embarrassing! As it turns out, Palatine Hill is a very large area that I completely missed. In my defense, I saw an area that I wanted to go to (which was actually Palatine Hill, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there). I was excited to go to the Colosseum, anyway.
I walked right in without waiting. It really pays to buy your tickets in advance. I walked toward the center, and there it was. I’d seen pictures that really depicted exactly what it looks like. There’s no replacement for being there and experiencing it, though. As I walked around in a circle I came upon an American giving a tour. She was extremely good and gave really interesting little tidbits about different parts of the Colosseum. I didn’t want to take advantage of her by listening for free, but I sucked up as much as I could without it being obvious. Incidentally, I kept running into her! I think I came upon her or she came upon me on 3 different occasions.
I learned where the Emperor would sit; there was a tunnel from Palatine Hill to his seats so he wouldn’t have to walk amongst the common people to get to the event.
There were exits on either side: one for the winners, and one for the losers/dead gladiators and animals. There were women who fought. There were men with spears who were positioned around the perimeter of the arena and their job was to prevent wild animals from jumping out. Only 20% of gladiators perished.
People carved graffiti, such as the names of their favorite fighters, into the seats. Women sewed and reapplied their makeup, as evidenced by hair pins and needles extracted from the ruins. They ate and drank. In fact, attendees were really not much unlike those of us who go to events today! The wealthy politicians sat in the lowest seats, those with horses were in the next level and the middle class and poor up top – again, much like today! 🙂 I also learned in a later tour that the reason why part of the wall of the Colosseum is missing is because of attacks on Rome in WWII. That’s a bummer.
Suddenly the sky became a familiar shade of dark blue and gray and there were occasional small rumblings from afar. I was hoping it would miss my location, but alas, it did not. It rained. Then it rained harder. Then it poured. Then it poured harder. The minutes were passing quickly and I was worried the storm was going to keep me from getting to see all I had planned to visit. Finally it began to let up and I decided a few sprinkles weren’t going to hurt me. I set out to find the Pantheon.
On my way, I walked down a wide cobblestone street with ancient ruins on either side, and beautiful landscaping. The just-wet street glistened and I soaked up the charming scene. On my left was the gorgeous and gigantic Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II. The front had gorgeous flowers and fantastic, grand sculptures.
I walked through the Piazza Venezia and carefully chose one of the six roads that came off it. I had heard Italian driving was crazy, and it absolutely is. I saw one stop sign the entire day, and found it really doesn’t mean anything to Italian motorists. There’s no right of way. Everyone has the right of way, and if you’re not an aggressive driver, you’ll never get anywhere. Hoofing it was becoming an increasingly appealing option.
To my surprise, I chose the correct road. I continued onward and decided I would hit the Pantheon before my Rome Illuminated at Night tour, and try to see the Piazza di Popolo after the Vatican the following day. I didn’t want to feel rushed and I was getting extremely hungry. I’d brought my protein bar and ate half of it while in the Roman Forum. It filled me up for a short time, but I was going to need something cheap – and soon. As I walked down the street there were several little restaurants with quaint little patios. I looked at a few menus and decided they were probably too expensive for my current and suddenly broke situation. I eventually came to a little restaurant slightly off the beaten path. Il Ristorante di Falchetto had an affordable menu, and a very kind server who invited me to take any seat on the empty patio. Under normal circumstances I would be hesitant to eat somewhere that other patrons weren’t present, but at 5pm, it was quite early for dinner. (Italians don’t eat dinner until at least 8:00pm)!
I took a seat on the patio and my server took my drink order – sparkling water and white wine. I decided on just an entree to save money. I wanted it to be inexpensive, while also a typical Italian food. I decided on the Gnocchi [nyawk-kee] with marinara sauce and buffalo mozzarella cheese. While I was waiting for my meal, my server brought me bread and then set out a bottle of olive oil, a container of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. I didn’t think Italians really ate the bread with oil and vinegar. Then came my gnocchi. It was the best I’ve ever had. Hands down. I have heard that Americans typically don’t like true Italian dishes because they don’t taste like our Americanized versions. I was pleased that I loved it. 🙂 After I ate every last bite, and then soaked up every last drip of marinara sauce with my remaining bread, the server came back and offered me dessert. I haven’t had any traditional Italian desserts (other than loads of gelato), but after perusing the menu and prices, I decided maybe I should wait until my finances are squared away.
When the server came back I politely told him I decided against the dessert due to my cards recently being stolen. When he brought my ticket, he also brought me some real house-made Italian cookies!
My experience with Italians is that they are generally very friendly, and he was no exception. When I left, I stopped at the restroom since I didn’t know when my next opportunity would be. On my way out I was surprised to find he and 5 other staff eating a meal together at a back table. They were serving patrons and dining together at the same time. I found it so odd as this would never happen back home, but at the same time I loved it! Italian culture is truly about enjoying great food and wine with great family and friends. It’s about relationships more than anything! It put a smile on my face! As I walked out, I told him in my very best Italian: “Grazi! Sei motto simpatico!” (Thank you! You are very kind)! He became shy and lowered his head slightly and responded “Prego.” (You’re welcome).
I very happily walked down the narrow cobblestone pathway, on toward the Pantheon. While strolling through I came upon a 14 year old Boxer named Frank. He was the complete opposite of mine – calmly chilling in the street, whereas mine would be jumping around excitedly. I can only hope that mine will live that long (or longer) and they will be as calm as him! He wasn’t leashed, and would just sit or lie down waiting for his master to quit talking. When he did get up, he sauntered very slowly. At that age, he’s earned the right to go at his own pace. I wanted to pet him so bad, but his master, whom I briefly talked with, didn’t invite me to do so. I’m sure Frank is as docile as they come, but I don’t make a habit of petting stranger dogs.
Bam! Pantheon. Right there in front of me the whole time. As I later learned in my Rome At Night Tour, the Pantheon is one of the best preserved buildings in Rome. Wouldn’t it be nice if they built things like that these days? The doors were closed but the front was impressive. Each of the 24 granite columns weigh 5 tons each. Again, you have to wonder how they managed to build such a structure without modern technology. Not only that, how did they get the granite from Point A to Point B in order to build it?
I decided it was time to head toward the Spanish Steps. I wanted to allot myself some extra time in case I got lost. As it turns out, I didn’t get lost and was able to make it directly to the Piazza di Spagna. I decided with my extra time I would sit on the steps with hundreds of other tourists while I waited for my night tour to start.
Finally 7:30pm rolled around. I went to the meeting place and found the group had been divided into two smaller groups due to the overall size. I was delighted to be with the smaller group. I like a more intimate setting to facilitate learning. I feel it’s a little more personal and you get more bang for your buck. We had to wait a little longer as there was one other person coming. Soon she arrived and the tour began. Our group consisted of an Indian family: parents and an adult son and daughter, a tall, blonde 26 year old Australian girl by the name of Karen, and myself. Karen and I hit it off from the start! She and I are very much alike and both traveling solo right now. Our group was led by a delightful girl from Lithuania by the name of Egle. She has lived in Denmark, Vienna and now in Italy for the past year. She did a great job and made the tour entertaining and fun.
We started at the Spanish Steps, talked about Bernini’s Fontanta della Barcaccia, and the first tea store in Rome established by two confident British women who thought they might make a killing bringing tea to Rome (and they did).
We walked by the first McDonalds of Rome, which was initially built with typical Roman architecture. When McDonalds found out it didn’t look like McDonalds, they made them change it. We stopped at a drinking water fountain that emptied into a trough. Because of all the aqueducts, there is enough water to have multiple drinking fountains throughout the city. The water that isn’t used is sent back out to the river. We went to Trevi Fountain and I was just as devastated as I thought I would be. The Trevi Fountain is being restored and is completely barricaded off, with the water drained. Some of the sculptures are impossible to see.
Nonetheless, I had to make the best of it and throw a coin in. Egle informed us of the legend: You must throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain. If you throw one coin, you will fall in love with Rome and will come back. If you throw a second coin, you fall in love with an Italian. One coin was sufficient for me! My mother would kill me for throwing a second one with the threat of falling in love with an Italian man and never coming home.
We walked through the streets and saw many more monuments and sculptures, significant both politically and religiously. Eventually we ended up at the Pantheon just past dusk. The Pantheon and piazza were beautiful with all the lights. We took a few pictures and it was then time to head into a nearby restaurant where we would have wine and appetizers. We had real mozzarella sticks (more like patties), fried zucchini blooms with mushrooms, penne pasta with marinara sauce, panini, peanuts and chips. In place of wine I had the typical Italian “spritz”. I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s orange and heavy on the alcohol! I was afraid the food and drinks would be an additional expense, but it ended up being included with the tour. Great! “Free” dinner! I could make that protein bar last a little longer!
We ended our tour at the Piazza Navona – a beautiful piazza with another beautiful Bernini fountain. We said our “Ciao’s”, Egle added me on Facebook, and then Karen and I went out to enjoy Rome at night together!
We wanted a wine bar but all we could find were restaurants. We walked and walked having no idea where we were going. The streets were much quieter, and I felt safe. We turned a narrow corner and there was a quaint little restaurant called Papa’s. We decided the patio there would be perfect for a glass of wine.
Meanwhile, I had been in contact with Aurelio. Aurelio had been a foreign exchange student in my friend Malorie’s class waaaaaaay back in high school. (Malorie is joining me in Florence soon). When she told us she had a connection, I friended him on Facebook in case I should need any help while on my own. Whaddya know? I needed help! We had planned to meet up anyway if possible, but after my credit cards were stolen, I had to buy a train ticket to Siena with my credit card number that Malorie is bringing me as I can’t purchase a bus ticket online. Once I made the purchase, I needed it printed. I asked Aurelio if he would have the ability to print the tickets for me, and as he was working in his office for the day, it was no problem. While Karen and I were enjoying our wine, Aurelio sent me a text to let me know he was out with friends having dinner and that we were invited to come when we were done. He sent me his location, and he was only 0.2 miles away! Just a 5 minute walk! Karen and I finished our wine and gushed about gelato on the walk over. We arrived to the restaurant and Aurelio was there with another couple and their adorable little 8 month old baby. He was such a good baby – always smiling and never cried. Aurelio asked if we wanted a glass of wine and we both decided to have ONE more. He then offered me a bite of the typical Roman dish he was eating: artichokes and lamb liver and kidneys. Sounds delightful, right? When in Rome…. (I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use that phrase)!!!!!!!! I didn’t really want to eat it, but I want to be cultured and push my limits so I had a bite. It actually didn’t taste that bad. In fact, it tasted good, with a strange texture, but just knowing what I was eating was too much. I then had a bite of his friend Daniela’s meal. It was a typical Roman dish, too, but I can’t remember what it was. It was also good, and as I remember, less disgusting sounding.
Soon it was time to leave and Karen and I learned Aurelio’s friend Marco had paid for our wine. I’m telling you! Those Italians are so nice! (The ones who aren’t thieves, anyway).
We then went for a walk around Rome, stopping for the most amazing gelato ever. I had Cocco, Chocolate and…. I don’t remember the other flavor. What I do remember is that it was especially delicious. Aurelio informed us many gelaterias use a powder to make their gelato, but this one makes it from real ingredients. In addition, the cone was crisp.
I’ve had cones that were so stale I could crumple it in my hand without it breaking. Ick. We continued on through Rome seeing the Senate, which was guarded, and Caesar’s murder site. The blazing sun had retreated hours before leaving a perfect night.
Wow! Look at the time! It was already after midnight! Marco and Daniela were tired. The baby was passed out in the stroller. (Sidetone: Karen asked how a mother pushes her baby in a “pram” with the uneven cobblestone streets. Would you believe there are springs on the wheels? That’s right! Roman strollers have shocks)! Karen’s phone was about to die, so she needed to head back to her hotel, and my Vatican tour was scheduled to start at 8:10am so I needed to go, too. It took us a good 10 minutes to determine how they were going to help Karen and I home. Unfortunately Karen couldn’t remember the name or address of her accommodation, so that took some time. Aurelio finally grabbed a taxi for her and sent her on her way. I walked back with them to Marco and Daniela’s house, and then hopped in the Smart car with Aurelio for my ride home. I can now check “riding in a smart car” off my list.
On the way to my Airbnb he detoured to show me something special in Rome – something the tours don’t tell you about! While it was late, this is just the kind of thing I love about having an insider! I might be getting this wrong, but he took me to the site of the Swiss Guard (the Pope’s secret service). Aurelio insisted Rome is magical and set out to prove it. He told me you could see St. Peter through a keyhole. Of course this didn’t mean anything to me until we actually got to the keyhole. He brought me to a big green door with the Swiss Guard emblem on it and had me look through the keyhole. (We actually had to wait our turn, as 2 other people were looking ahead of us). Soon it was my turn. I looked through the hole and I saw greenery, like hedges on either side of a sidewalk and at the very end, what looked like a bronze sculpture. When I told Aurelio what I saw, he just laughed at me and took me to a different door to try to get into the gardens. Unfortunately, the door was locked, so he told me what I was actually seeing it St. Peter’s Basilica far away. There is a direct line between the keyhole and the Basilica dome. We went back to the keyhole and I looked again. I could totally tell what I was seeing that time and I was astonished! It was gorgeous and I took the next 5 minutes trying to get an adequate photo. Impossible. Sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment.
Aurelio then took me home, and feeling concerned for my recent unfortunate events, insisted that I take some cash from him. Again, I tried to decline but he made me. I told him I’d return what I didn’t use with Malorie when she gets to Rome on the 14th, and anything I did use would be repaid.
I hurried inside, jumped in the shower and washed the Roman Forum off my feet and passed out!
It was an incredible day in Rome. I met some really great people, learned a lot about the city and had so much fun. My day in Rome is exactly what I’ve had in mind for this trip!!! So thankful for these experiences and people. I’m also thankful my faith in people on this trips is on the way to being restored.
By the way, I’m adding Australia to my travel bucket list now that I have a contact. 🙂